“Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.”
The invitation to the Christian faith should come with a warning label. It does, actually. But like the warning tags on your mattress, the warnings of the Christian faith often go unread and unheeded.
The call to follow Jesus is a call to forgiveness, grace, and new and eternal life (John 3:16). But it is also a call to suffer for the sake of Christ (1 Peter 2:21), to take up your cross and die with Jesus (Matt 16:24). Salvation is the free gift of God received by faith in Jesus Christ (Rom 3:22-24), but you must be willing to give up everything for the pearl of great price (Matt. 13:45-46).
Jude’s short letter is full of warnings to the believing community. He is writing to urge Christians everywhere to contend for the faith, because certain people have crept in unawares, and are twisting the grace of God into sensuality and denying our Lord and Master Jesus Christ (Jude 4). As I wrote last week, this is a warning that we are to be on guard against those outside influences, and even inward persuasions, that would corrupt or twist the grace of God into licentiousness or lawlessness.
Verses 5-7 continue with these warnings, using a series of analogies to give caution to the Church. In the verse above, Jude looks back to the foundational event of the people of Israel, their deliverance out of bondage in Egypt, as a point of reference for the contemporary Church.
After nearly 500 years of slavery in Egypt, a captivity to darkness and death, God delivered His people by mighty acts of power. Through the 10 plagues, culminating in the death of the firstborn throughout all the land, except for those whose homes were marked by the blood of the lamb, God saved His people from captivity. He brought them through the Red Sea, parting the waters that they may walk on dry land. He led them by the cloud by day and the fiery pillar at night.
(Notice that Jude has a very high Christo-centric view of Salvation: “Jesus, who saved a people out of Egypt…”. Though Jesus is not mentioned in the Exodus story, early Christians clearly saw the eternal Son of God working through the Old Testament. The salvation of the people from Egypt was the work of the Christ; the exodus prefiguring the ultimate salvation that Jesus would secure for God’s elect (in the curse of the first-born and the blood of the lamb that marks those who believe) This is what’s known as the doctrine of inseparable operations: in which every action of God is from the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit, and this is an order that is inherent to God’s triune identity.)
There was not one person among all of Israel who did not know, and would not confess belief in the God who saved them from their enemy. All would have been circumcised (the rite of acceptance into the covenant community). All would have attested to the mighty work of God on their behalf. All would have been able to profess an orthodox belief.
And yet we are told that the entire generation who were brought out of Egypt died in the wilderness because of their unbelief (Heb. 3:16-19; Num 14:20-25). They knew the right things, even had all the correct outward rites, but their faith was not genuine, they did not trust in the Lord, and they would not obey His commands (1 Cor 10:1-5). Though they had been saved from captivity in Egypt, they still came under judgment because of their unbelief.
Do you see what Jude’s doing here? He’s warned the church about those who have snuck in to corrupt the church with false teachings. Now he’s warning believers to examine their hearts. You may know the right things, have gone through all the right ceremonies, even professing outwardly your faith in Jesus Christ. But if that faith is not genuine, if it has no effect on the rest of your life, you are liable to the same threat of destruction that the Israelites faced in the wilderness.
We are saved by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, and this is not by works so that no man may boast (Eph 2:8-9). But we are also saved for the good works that God has set apart for us from before the beginning of time (Eph 3:10).
Jude will give us no false sense of security. He warns us of a dead orthodoxy: where we hold on to correct doctrine without a change of heart (regeneration) or change of practice, or any demonstration of love for God or one another. We are saved by faith, and yet even our Westminster Confession describes a saving faith as that which “yields obedience to the commands, trembles at the threatenings, and embraces the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come” (WCF XIV.2).
Beloved, hear and heed the warning from Jude. Guard your hearts, “that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb 6:12).